The Trump administration scored a major diplomatic victory when the UN Security Council voted 15 to one to impose crippling economic sanctions on North Korea. The sanctions would ban the export of items such as coal and seafood, slicing a billion dollars off of North Korea’s annual $3 billion in exports. In the meantime, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi directly admonished North Korea’s top diplomat during a conference in Manilla and told him that Pyongyang should halt missile and nuclear tests.

Why the sudden international cooperation?

Getting the UN Security Council to do anything that benefits American interests is, at best, very difficult.

Two of The United States’ worse opponents, Russia and China, have veto power in that body. That they would join in on a resolution that imposes real sanctions against North Korea is telling of how serious the crisis in the Northern Pacific has become. Two reasons exist for the sudden cooperation.

The United States has stated in no uncertain terms that it retains the option of launching a first strike on North Korea rather than to allow it to develop weapons of mass destruction that can hit either its allies Japan and South Korea or the American homeland. Such an operation would likely result in a catastrophic war that would kill millions. Such a conflict would not be in the interests of either Russia or China, particularly as it could result in a united Korea that is an ally of the United States.

Moreover, a nuclear North Korea is a direct threat to both Russia and China. Kim Jong-un is so unstable that he might launch a strike against Beijing or Vladivostok as he would Seoul, Tokyo, or Seattle. While having a hostile North Korea served well to give the United States and its allies headaches, there is such a thing as playing the game too far.

What happens now?

For the time being, the United States will monitor compliance with the sanctions, especially China’s, which imports a lot of goods from North Korea. The hope is that the sanctions alone will be enough to bring Pyongyang to its senses. The goal is an agreement in which North Korea agrees to give up its nuclear arsenal subjected to UN inspections.

If the sanctions fail, then further measures will have to be undertaken. Certainly, the United States will have to augment its missile defenses. However, the awful prospect of a strike that would remove North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and perhaps its capacity to make war is still genuine. The United States must not allow a regime to have nuclear weapons that does not have the required awe of their destructive power.